Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Life of Pi (2012)
What is faith? For Pi Patel, faith is believing in God through the avenue of numerous religions. He is a Hindu Christian Buddhist Muslim. It reminds me a bit of Beni in The Mummy who had all his bases covered with symbols and memorized prayers from every main religion. But Pi is no Beni. He truly believes that he can find God in all of the religions, and finds comfort in each of them. More on that later.
This story basically is about a young man named Pi whose family owned a zoo, but because of political unrest in India, they decide to move to Canada. The animals are going to be sold to North American zoos, but the ship carrying Pi, his family, and the animals, sinks during a storm. Pi is the only human survivor, and this film follows his adventures on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. That's the barebones plot, but the story is about so much more than just a boy adrift in an ocean with a tiger. It's about survival, about courage, about finding God in any and all circumstances.
One of the first things the audience needs to be aware of is that Pi does indeed believe in several religions at once. He somehow found a way to force them to mesh together in a cohesive format. Unfortunately, by believing in everything, what Pi really believes in is nothing. You can't force Christ and Krishna to get along. The Hindu religion has somewhere around 33 million gods, so Pi just adds these new gods to his reportoire of religions. It's unfortunate, really, because when Pi's time comes, he'll find that God never knew him, so what were all his claims of faith for in the long run?
The film itself is stunning. It's sort of a fanciful fairy-tale, with the vivid colors of India coming to life on the ocean. Because Pi spends so much time in the lifeboat, he reaches a point where the lines of reality blurr and he's not entirely certain what's real and what isn't real. He and Richard Parker learn to coexist in a very tenuous relationship, struggling to survive. There are flying fish, sharks, a massive whale, and even a 'carniverous' island inhabited solely by meerkats whose waters turn to acid at night. The violence is on a PG13 level, particularly since animals get eaten. I hate nature shows because I love animals, but at least Life of Pi cuts away before the scenes gets too bloody.
Life of Pi is magnificent, there's no getting around it. Suraj Sharma (young Pi) and Irrfan Khan (mature Pi) really showed their acting chops. My experience with Indian films is limited to either B grade Bollywood musicals or the historic masterpiece Jodha Akbar so I wasn't sure what to expect. Life of Pi, despite the odd religious beliefs of the young hero, really exceeded my expectations. Maybe I'm alone in this, but I like finding out what other people believe, how they think about God and faith. It gives me a greater understanding of the various deviations people come up with about Christianity and God in general, and I like being informed. Pi is a wonderful young man. He's dedicated to religion and God, he just can't pick one faith over any other. He's just as adrift spiritually as he is physically in that lifeboat.
Don't let my musings stop you from watching Life of Pi. Caitlin and I really did like it, it's just that I don't go into movies with blind faith. I like analyzing them and figuring out what makes them tick and whether I completely agree with the conclusions or not. But I also love fanciful movies, and you don't get much more fanciful than Life of Pi.